A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.

FAITHFUL

Hoffman takes a break from writing about distant places and the distant past (Marriage of Opposites, 2015, etc.) to explore the psyche of a young Long Island woman afflicted by survivor guilt.

In her own mind, Shelby Richmond stole her best friend’s future. Two years have passed since the car accident that left Helene tethered to a feeding tube in her childhood bedroom just before she should have graduated from high school, a mute but lovely shadow of her former badass self, a magnet for pilgrims hoping to be cured by touching her hand. This cringeworthy spectacle sometimes causes Shelby to ponder whether it's better or worse that her friend lived. Mainly, though, Shelby focuses on enacting her own penance for being physically and cognitively intact (the jury’s out on emotionally): by shaving her head, sleeping like Dracula in her parents’ basement, skipping college, and sometimes cutting herself in places she thinks won’t be detected. Miserable as things are for Shelby, Hoffman provides readers as well as her deeply wounded heroine some quirky human anchors to make her journey back to higher functionality more than bearable, even entertaining: e.g., an anonymous Samaritan, apparently male, who sends her hand-drawn postcards bearing get-well messages in the form of visual and verbal riddles. And there's black-humored levity in Shelby’s snarky exchanges with Ben Mink—her marijuana source who's grown from high school geek to handsome striver and brings her Ray Bradbury books to read. “I believe in tragedy,” she tells him apropos of Helene’s faithful flock. “Not miracles.” Though bald and self-medicating, she grasps that moving in with Ben while he attends pharmacy grad school (!!!) at NYU might be a better direction. While shacking up with Ben, she finds a job cleaning cages at a gritty pet store. The silver lining is her co-worker Maravelle, a single mom of three young kids, whose lack of self-pity over her bad luck with men ("See a charmer and you're bound to see a snake nearby") attracts Shelby. Perhaps there’s a way these two bruised women can help each other? Ultimately, though, it’s Sue Richmond, Shelby’s mom, who proves to be the real saint of the narrative—her unobtrusive shaping of Shelby’s better instincts is one of the most touching aspects of the book. With Hoffman, it’s a safe bet deus ex machina or mild enchantment is going to enter the plot. By the time it does, however, Shelby’s well on her way to recalibrating. She couldn’t save her friend, but Hoffman endows her with the inner weather to save herself.

A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9920-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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